Production speed for trimming may sound contradictory to some, but it's not–speed is good. The trick is setting up a good cut room, measuring properly, and coping inside corners. Here's how we make trim fly.
Step 1: Cut Room & Material Organization.
Cut Room. I set up a cut room in as central a location inside the house as possible. The longest rooms (usually the dining/living room on the first floor; the master bedroom on the second) are best. I have three workstations in the cut room: miter saw, table saw, and work table. The work table has a portable router table, sanders, biscuit joiner, clamps, and supplies for unique situations where detailing individual pieces is required. I swipe a concept from kitchen design and try to set up the workstations in a "work triangle" to create a smart, sensible workflow.
Material Organization. The key to smart organization is to separate all the casing, sill, base, etc., into sections. If you can see it and reach it, you don't waste time looking and sifting. For me, a Baker scaffold or a small folding scaffold works great as a trim rack, makes the whole package mobile (this is good for smaller spaces), and keeps everything off the floor, eliminating damage.
Step 2: Protocol
The key to getting out of the blocks quickly is to know the order of operations and follow it throughout the house. Jamming through all the steps–doors, windows, base, chair, picture rail, crown, in that order–creates momentum and cuts down on mistakes.
Divide and Conquer. Two-person crews work best for me, though this system works great for solo operators, too. First, I install and case the doors, then set window sills and case the windows. This creates all the control points from which to pull the rest of the measurements for all other trim (except crown). After setting the doors, a divide-and-conquer approach works best: One person trims them while the other sets window sills and cases the windows. With this trim in place, I'm ready to measure for the rest of the molding in the room–in one shot.
Step 3: Measuring and Cutting
Measure Once. I sketch the room, then measure my way around clockwise. I start at the entry door and run my tape from the casing to whatever's next, be it a drywall corner (inside or outside) or another piece of casing. I do this until I work my way back to the entry door. I record each measurement as I go on a block or clipboard before heading back to the cut room to cut all the pieces I just measured. And, I do it at each trim level or height (base, chair, etc.) because drywall corners are never really straight.
Cut Once. This system is predicated on the fact that my carpenters and I can cope our inside corners. This is important. While this system works for crews who miter their inside corners, miter joints are inferior; they're hard to get right and often open up. In other words, if you don't know how to dead-end left/cope right correctly, learn how. It'll create a superior product for your customers and, in the long run, is much easier than mitering. (Dead-end refers to the square cut left un-coped that butts into a corner.)
At the saw, I pull all measurements from the dead-end left (Note: you can dead-end and cope any side of the trim you want; I cope the right side because I'm right-handed.) Cut test pieces to determine exactly how to dial in your cope on the finished pieces. Often on detailed profiles (chair, crown, and picture rail), you have to clip a bit of the profile off so the moldings mate properly. And remember, the measurements you took represent the back-side measurements of the trim pieces, so as you tweak the cope–don't change the long-point of the piece or you'll come up short.
Step 4: Installation
I install the trim counterclockwise in the room–the opposite direction from which I measure. This means that I can get a dead-end in place, then lay a cope right over it when I install the next piece. I start with low work and move up (after the doors and windows are set and cased). I install all the base molding throughout an entire floor before moving on to chair rail, which enables me to clear the room if we need ladders or staging for picture rail and crown. Completing full steps like this generates momentum and cuts down on mistakes that can result from making your mind change gears between installing base to hanging crown. Plus, it helps empty out the cut room in big chunks. Finally, I work one floor at a time, moving the cut station as I finish a floor.
–Steve Veroneau owns Transformations LLC in Falls Church, Va., and is a contributing editor to Tools of the Trade.